HL Deb 04 July 1983 vol 443 cc437-40
Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take in the light of the report on Popular Television and School Children.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has already discussed the report's conclusions with the BBC and the IBA. We hope that there will now be continuing debate among broadcasters, parents and teachers about the issues raised in the report.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that sympathetic answer and the good news that the Secretary of State has taken the initial step. Can my noble friend tell us, is the Secretary of State contemplating setting up machinery so that there can be continuing consultation between those responsible for broadcast programmes and teachers to ensure that the influence of television programmes on children should not be damaging? Is my noble friend aware that the burden of this report shows that the average viewing hours of children between 5 and 14 is no less than 23 hours a week, more hours than they actually spend in the classroom? Is he aware that this does show how enormously influential television is and the necessity for stronger safeguards? Can my noble friend give us some encouragement that we may expect some permanent machinery to be set up to get an improvement in this field?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for drawing attention to this report. It certainly makes very interesting reading, and I hope a number of noble Lords will take the opportunity of reading it. The object of setting up this report was to try to get discussion going. I certainly hope that when perhaps some of the hullabaloo has died down there may indeed be discussion between broadcasters, teachers and others. I do not think my right honourable friend has any intention of, as it were, setting up formal machinery for this.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on the initiative he has taken. In view of the facts set out in this report, does the noble Earl not agree that an element of urgency ought to be injected into these proposed discussions, and that we really cannot leave matters quite like this?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I can only repeat that the whole object of the report was to provoke discussion, and that is seems to be doing extremely well. This report was produced by 15 teachers. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how grateful the Government are to the teachers, who gave up a lot of their time to produce the report. Its conclusions represent their considered views; it is not Government policy, although we do have a lot of sympathy with it. I hope it will take off in the natural course of events rather than rushing in and setting up some sort of official machinery.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his reaction that this makes interesting reading and that he hopes it will lead to debate will disappoint many who have read this report and been instructed by it? Can my noble friend really think that the words "interesting reading leading to debate" is an adequate response to the treatment of nuclear disaster as a proper topic for comedy, and the position of the disabled likewise?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am not going to get involved in any of the detailed criticism of any of the individual programmes. I think the report does make interesting reading; I do not think my noble friend could disagree with that. It may make worrying reading and upsetting reading. It was primarily a report by teachers for teachers, and I think that that is a great advantage it will have in informing the teaching profession what children think about and how much they are influenced by television programmes. I hope schools will take note of this and that there will be more discussion at schools between teachers and their pupils about what they have seen on television.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl the Minister if, when this report is being discussed, another report which has just appeared recently, by, I think the Dean of Oxford Polytechnic, could also be studied? I understand that in that report the evidence is that at least we can be thankful that there is no evidence of children copying any violent action. It seems to me that the most worrying thing in this report is: The mindless inattentiveness and passivity which can spill over into other areas of children's lives, making them less willing to think for themselves". This seems to me to be one of the most worrying things and I would ask whether this report, and particularly that aspect of it, could be considered when the Secretary of State is setting up the inquiry.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing that other report to our attention. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to it.

Lord Somers

My Lords, having been a member of the teaching profession, may I ask whether the noble Earl would not agree with me that there are teachers and teachers?

The Earl of Swinton

Yes, my Lords, there are teachers and teachers. These particular 15 teachers who produced this report were chosen because of their very high reputation, and also because they came from a variety of schools, not only geographically but from large secondary schools, small primary schools, and across the board. I think these teachers were, if I may say so, very much teachers and not teachers.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, will the Secretary of State be arranging an opportunity for a parental input into this matter? It is important that teachers should be discussing the matter: but most important of all is, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford suggested, that children are watching television for nearly as long as they are in school. That is in the hands of parents. Will the Secretary of State discuss this matter with parents?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for making that point. What the report says is that children spend more time watching television than they spend in the classroom. There is quite a lot of weight put into the report on the responsibilities of parents. Speaking not as a member of the Government but as a parent, I know how difficult it is to stop children watching television. One can tell them not to, but one finds the beastly set is switched on. As I said in my reply to the first supplementary question, I do not think that my right honourable friend is setting up any official machinery to study this, but I will certainly draw his attention to my noble friend's remarks about parents.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, the noble Lord used the words "when the hullabaloo has died down". Will he assure the House that this does not indicate that he considers that an unnecessary fuss has been made by the press, but arises from a deepseated and widespread concern on the part of the public?

The Earl of Swinton

Yes, my Lords. I apologise to noble Lords if I gave that impression. I was thinking of some of the rather unfortunate headlines that appeared in the more popular press. On the other hand, there were some very good and considered judgments in some of the other papers. I have tried to stress that there is absolutely no intention on the Government's part to hush this up. We welcome any publicity. Any publicity is good publicity on this matter. Discussion is a very good thing and that is why the whole report was produced.

Lord Glenkinglas

My Lords, will my noble friend cast his mind back a few years to when he was at school and agree with me that 23 hours a week spent in the classroom is remarkably little? We have benefited enormously by the fact that my noble friend spent a great deal longer than that in the classroom.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that remark. I do not know quite how to take it. I cannot remember how long I spent in the classroom, but I think that when I was at school there was little television anyway.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, has the Minister detected a note of anxiety in the House on all sides about the effect of television on children? Will he take the remark that he made about reporting back to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State a little further and say that it was the general expression of view in this House that this matter should not be limited to a mere debate and discussion but that a continuing council or advisory body should be set up to study the matter from week to week?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I will most certainly do that. If I have given any impression that I was not one of your Lordships who were disturbed and worried by the report, I was putting my case very badly. I was as disturbed in reading the report as any noble Lord sitting in this Chamber. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and will do that.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not the case that the idea of setting up a new body to supervise television is unanimously supported in this House?

The Earl of Swinton

Well, my Lords, that is a matter of opinion.

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